I have always felt the need to make things ‘fair’ (for the sake of disclosure, I’ll just add that my fella, who is always under the impression that the larger half of the cake ends up on my plate, will probably disagree.)
But I insist that the urge is there, even if my big ol’ eyes sometimes get the better of me.
Let’s look at the evidence:
My Dad used to stop my sister and I fighting over who got the larger ‘half’ of an apple by making one of us cut the fruit and the other choose which piece to take. I bet you’ve never seen kids so careful to get it right (pretty effective parenting there, Dad.) That’s still with me, even when I divide a fresh cream éclair.
I also remember a game in the playground where one hapless child had to be ‘it’ and before the game starts they dole out a number of “bobs” (ducking down) and “excuses” (Aargh, my arm!) for the others to use to avoid being caught. The distribution of get-outs was done blind and (now I think about it) was amazingly reliant on the other kids being honest about how many they have. I felt the need to give everyone a relatively equal amount and was therefore doomed to be ‘it’ for most of the break.
When I got older and had some money to spend, this sense of fairness extended to Christmas presents and birthday gifts. I got this idea that if I spent, say, £20 on one person, then I should spend the same on everyone else. Not only did this make things expensive, it also led to some pretty poor decision-making: if there are X amount of people, then I can only spend Y on each. Sometimes the perfect gift was just out of my reach, and other times I would supplement it with unnecessary stuff just to make up the sums.
The problem with this plan was this: Using money as the only measure of value isn’t actually fair.
Let me explain:
Imagine you are gift recipient no. 1. You get a big-and-fun-but-not-exactly-you present. It’s nice. You smile and say thank you, put it to one side and get on with your life.
Then imagine being recipient no. 2. You get a cluster of small parcels, each one a small and perfect delight! The first item alone is enough to make you feel like the giver has seen inside your soul, but then you’ve got all these little extras that overwhelm you with gratitude and joy.
There you have it – two people, each being presented with gifts of the same monetary value and the results totally out of whack. No. 1’s perfect present was outside your price range, so you plumped for the next best thing. No. 2’s gift was so absolutely, unbelievably over-the-moon perfect that you really didn’t need to do another thing. Except you did, because you had spent less. So you made it ‘fair’ by topping up the value with delightful trinkets and making recipient no.1 feel even more out of the loop.
I don’t think I need to go into detail about what the better solution would have been.
The problem of monetary value becomes even more heightened when you’re broke.
If you don’t actually have any money to spend, then gift giving is in danger of becoming your own private hell. Give, or eat? Treat your best buddy and have your services disconnected, or allow yourself the luxury of a bit of light and heat for a change? Nice choices. The alternative – giving something that doesn’t actually cost a thing – is the worst of all because it leaves you feeling like a penny-pinching piece of crap, even if it’s the most perfect present in the world.
The implications of valuing everything with money are terrifyingly far-reaching (hands up anyone whose salary and sense of self worth are not inextricably linked!) It is a license to destroy anything that doesn’t directly boost the economy and a reason to believe that some people are better than you.
It’s time we redefined “Value” to include the ability to nurture, delight and add joy.
This makes my Mum’s “greasy spoon dinner”* (a bit of low-budget fun for some well-off relations) as good as an afternoon in the Ritz. It makes libraries worth supporting, art galleries worth subsidising, nature worth protecting and mums worth a million. A new definition of value lets passionate people ask for the money they need, and makes the over-priced, poorly produced, sweat-shop supporting piece of designer gear you just lusted over not good enough to line your garbage can.
As long as ‘expensive’ is good and ‘free’ of no value, then millions of people remain at the bottom of the heap while others have permission to do whatever they please.
*Greasy Spoon (British): a cheap diner, home to fried breakfasts, over-stewed tea and sugar spoons tied to the tables.
Image by Ilham Rahmansyah on Unsplash.com